How can I comfort myself instead of leaning on my stressed-out boyfriend?
April 6, 2009 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Help! My boyfriend/roommate has less time for me than he used to, and now I feel like I'm sabotaging my relationship with insecurity and anxiety. Help me deal with this without being crazy and treating my already-stressed boyfriend badly.

I met my fella last summer, when he moved into my commune-like apartment (we're mostly college students, and there are several of us living here full time, plus assorted friends and vagabonds sleeping on the couches every so often). He moved in because he'd lived here in the past, was part of our social group, and because he was starting up a little business nearby and had been crashing at our place more or less every night for a month or so anyway after staying at the store late working on the space. I was already seeing someone else, but he was overseas for the summer and though I didn't really notice current-fella at first, I eventually found myself feeling uncontrollably drawn to cuddle up with him. And so it started.

After a week or two of cuddling and sleeping together in the evenings, we started actually sleeping together - and it was great! He was sufficiently rough and adventurous and it was just lovely. We had lots of great sex, snuggled up together almost every night, and didn't talk too much about where things were going. It was around this time that he formally moved in - which meant putting a bunch of bookshelves of his belongings in a corner of the living room and calling one of the couches his bed - but at this point he always slept with me, so that didn't seem to matter.

It wasn't all rosy - even though we spent lots of time together (aside from evening cuddles, mostly in the form of long trips to the hardware store for building supplies) - I was kind of anxious about the fact that we rarely talked. I joke these days that our early dates consisted of "going to the hardware store and not talking to each other". Basically, I felt like I was getting to know him and falling in love with him - or something - without any real exchange of words or confirmation that he felt anything similar (aside from the fact that he kept asking me to go to the hardware store with him!) I always felt like I was chasing him - waiting around for him, hoping he'd come home, heart jumping a little bit when I heard the front door open because it might be him, and so on. I still feel this way, most of the time. But I've historically tended toward anxiety and obsession in my relationships, and at the time it generally seemed less consuming in this one than in others.

He also made things clear at the beginning that he wasn't going to be monogamous. I was basically fine with that, though I've historically been pretty vanilla in that respect - but I've slept around more than he has since our thing started (he's only slept with other people in my company). Our place is the center of a large and pretty bohemian social group, so this wasn't that unusual. I've actually found the whole non-monogamy thing pretty liberating - I used to spend a lot of time worrying about being attracted to other people or falling in love with other people, and now I don't. But I do get a little jealous when he's affectionate with his ex, who's part of our social group and who I felt awkward around even before I knew she'd dated him.

So for the first five or six months, I was maybe a little uneasy but basically happy. And I was particularly happy because I wasn't being faced with any weird co-dependent relationship drama - I'd had some trouble with that kind of thing in the past (both on my end and from my partners). But me and current-fella would cook each other dinner, wash each other's dishes, and generally co-exist happily and without too much blazing intensity. Nice quiet domestic romance, from my perspective.

Now things are completely different. I seem to have become a completely insecure wreck, and I'm worried that I'm going to ruin things. And while I know that things will probably turn out for the best even if we break up, etc. I still want to see if I can just stop acting like a nut and keep things afloat.

Here's how this phase began:

At a certain point, some time in mid-January, he started seeming a little agitated about being "stuck". He'd tease me occasionally about being his girlfriend (and I'd always say, "I'm not your girlfriend!" - though eventually I agreed that I guessed I was his girlfriend - I don't know why I had such a thing about it), and he made some remark at some point along the lines of, "how'd things get so serious with us?" And he'd talk about being stuck with me, and more importantly stuck with the store (which at this point was beginning to take up much more of his time and was a considerable source of financial stress). We weren't sure if our lease on the apartment was going to be renewed, and he talked apparently half-alarmedly, half-pleasedly about us looking for an apartment together and moving there with some of the other roommates.

(Historical note: he grew up traveling a good deal and since college has traveled a lot himself - and he's definitely missing the freedom of movement he's lost as a result of his business debt).

By February, the store was stressing him out even more. He even broke out in a rash at a certain point, which we theorized was stress related. He stopped taking care of household stuff in the apartment, like washing dishes (though he'd traditionally been my ally in harassing the other roommates to wash their dishes). And he started sleeping with me (in either sense) less and less.

(Historical note: he's told me that he's long had problems getting up in the morning, and that it's much harder for him to get up if he's sleeping with someone - so he wants to sleep alone ostensibly because it'll make it easier for him to get up in the morning. But back when we were always sleeping together, in the early days of the store, he'd often have to get up even earlier - around 5am sometimes - and though he did often oversleep, he still slept with me...)

For some reason, not going to sleep with him completely freaks me out. At first I'd cry myself to sleep, and then avoid talking about it with him, hoping things would straighten themselves out on their own. But they didn't - currently he sleeps with me maybe two nights a week. He works at the store 5-13 hours a day 5-7 days a week, and often ends up working on store stuff or doing freelance work on the side - or just reading to destress - until late at night. When he does this, he's completely inaccessible - in another world, basically. We rarely go anywhere or do anything together, he seems to dread going to work, and I feel wrenchingly lonely, neglected, and as if talking to him about it will only make everything worse because it'll stress him out more.

But unfortunately, I talk to him anyway. It started one night when I decided that I couldn't stand being so sad when I tried to go to sleep alone. I went to him - he was on the couch in his "room" - and told him I was sad about being alone and asked if he'd come sleep with me. He refused, but I persisted and cried a bit and eventually he semi-reluctantly came and slept with me. The next evening was Valentine's Day. He apologized for "being an asshole" over dinner. I told him he hadn't been an asshole.

If this had been a one-time thing, it probably would have been just fine - but I've started going in and bugging him - in what I know is his only free time, in what I know is his only semi-private space - more or less every night! It's compulsive, and very hard to stop myself from doing if I'm in that mood. When I do this, I'm usually feeling lonely and worrying that "he doesn't really like me" and feeling resentful about not having spent any time with him that day or about him "never paying any attention to me" and things like that. I have no real idea of how rational or reasonable any of these feelings are (he legitimately has very little free time these days - but I legitimately hardly see him most days, too). I've never lived with a partner before, and I suspect that's part of the problem - particularly since this one doesn't have any real space of his own. But regardless of rationality, I continue to have these episodes of intense unhappiness - though most of the time I wake up in the morning alone and feel fine, like a different person, not insecure or worried at all, except about the consequences of my complaints and vague threats to break up with him and things like that. And I don't know what to do. I don't want to torment him when he's stressed and depressed (and I really do feel like I'm being at least partially unreasonable) - but I don't want to be sad and preoccupied so much of the time. But I do like him a lot, he's wonderful and not like anyone I've ever met. I miss how things used to be.

I wish he'd comfort and reassure me, but he doesn't seem very good at that - and this seems like something I should be able to do myself, anyway, and really more my job than his (even if I think otherwise when I'm at my worst). But I haven't had much success, and simply waiting for it to go away takes a long time - and I'm trying to finish my bachelor's thesis and need to be able to focus on work!

So, what's worked for you? What might work for me?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Now things are completely different. I seem to have become a completely insecure wreck, and I'm worried that I'm going to ruin things. And while I know that things will probably turn out for the best even if we break up, etc. I still want to see if I can just stop acting like a nut and keep things afloat.

What I think would be helpful is looking at what else is going on in your life right now. Because I have a strong suspicion that you might be running into a rough spot in some other part of your life. That's what creates obsession. A need to think about something other than the problem staring you in the face. So you focus on another problem.

I suggest looking at where other things might be bothering you and concentrating on them whenever you feel needy for your friend.

I'd also allow those feelings of neediness to wash over you without doing anything about them. Become friends with them and let them go where they will. 90% of the pain from these feelings comes from trying to escape them--they follow you around everywhere. Let them happen. They are part of being human.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:11 PM on April 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

It sounds like maybe you should sit down and have a talk about where you are and where you want to be in life? Specifically -- where you want to be in this relationship.

I understand your desire to respect his space (and not fuck up the relationship in the process) but it seems like you both might have slightly different ideas of where you want to be, vis a vis each other -- and talking about it directly is the only way you're going to resolve that.
posted by puckish at 12:32 PM on April 6, 2009

What has worked for me, and might work for you, is to force myself to focus on areas of my life that do not include you-know-who. Then either he'll see that he misses you and make an effort to create time together, or a certain distance will be created naturally where it isn't that hard to be apart.

So, that thesis? Get goin' on it. And perhaps soon he'll be coming to you, acknowledging how little time you've spent together recently. And if not...well, hey, your thesis will be done!
posted by agentwills at 12:40 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

And he'd talk about being stuck with me

Do you really want to be with someone who characterizes being with you as "stuck"? Obviously, you do but you really should want to be with someone who is excited to be with you and sees being together as a wealth of possibilities and happiness.

I've never lived with a partner before

And you still aren't. You're living with a roommate with benefits (I wouldn't even categorize it as a friend with benefits since you don't seem to enjoy any of the benefits of a friendship now).

I'm usually feeling lonely and worrying that "he doesn't really like me" and feeling resentful about not having spent any time with him that day or about him "never paying any attention to me" and things like that

You've explained and explained that you guys don't talk--change this. You will then know the answer to these questions you seem to keep tormenting yourself with. I understand that you were ok with not being monogamous in the beginning but it sounds like things have changed. Go for a walk and tell him it is important for you to understand his feelings with regard to you and the relationship. Frankly, it doesn't sound like either are a priority for him. Maybe though if you hear it from him once and for all you can move past this person.

First and foremost, I would back away from this person to allow yourself to work on the neediness and anxiety that is manifesting in you to make you so clingy. Most people do not break down in tears when they cannot sleep with their SO for a night.

You sound very, very unhappy. You should not be unhappy and tormenting yourself just to maintain status quo and "keep things afloat". You deserve happiness and a love with someone who is equally excited to be with you.
posted by ejazen at 12:51 PM on April 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

Everything, everything, everything in this relationship is undefined and up in the air. It's making you crazy, it's even making him crazy. Here's a plan you can propose:

- You and he talk about agreeing to a defined relationship for a defined period of time. He's "stuck" with you, you're "stuck" with him, but it's got an end date after which you can both re-evaluate. Maybe 3 months, maybe 6 months -- see what feels right.

- During that time, you set whatever boundaries make you feel right. Might be monogamy (remember, it's only for a while)

- These boundaries should probably include him sleeping with you. Make sure it's comfortable; don't try to squeeze onto a twin bed or anything - and commit to helping make sure he gets up on time, probably by making sure you both go to sleep by a certain time every night or every weeknight. You have to respect this. He's, in a sense, fighting for his life with his business, and you can't be the one trying to distract him from it.

- This is crucial, and a kind of gift you can give him: arrange a time or times when he can be alone, in your (now in a sense both of your) room. Maybe having a nap, maybe working, maybe reading, listening to music, whatever he wants. He's got a ton going on, and even the most ardent extrovert probably needs some time to think. Maybe 2 evenings per week, 6:00 - 10:30 (or whenever bed time is), maybe 4 hours on Saturday, however it works. During this time, you'll need to be out of the house so you don't smother him; even if he's in the room and you're in the living room or kitchen, he'll feel more able to focus on just himself if he knows he won't see you. Not because he won't want to see and talk to you, but because when he does, it would be too weird if he didn't say hi, cuddle you, reassure you, whatever.

It's good for you to have to be away from him during these times, too. You'll go out, do something fun for yourself, hang out with your not-him friends, maybe do errands or volunteer or whatever you want.

- In return, you can ask for the comfort of him sleeping with you, and he may be happier with both more and less space.

Good luck!
posted by amtho at 1:42 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Those suggestions are all good if there is a chance that he will want to work this out with you. Ask yourself honestly, without trying to make excuses for him about him waking up early and etc, do you think he is willing to try? Not to be harsh, but I don't think so. If a guy wants you, he shows it. No guy would ever say "I can't sleep with you tonight because I have to wake up early" - if you like a person you don't care about being a sleepy mess because you want to do everything you can to hang out with them, and this applies to long term relationships too, not just the first beginning exciting month.

From my experience, once a guy starts drifting away, it's going to be over sooner or later. The best you can do is decide exactly what you want - monogamy? I'm sure him not wanting to sleep with anyone else would ease your mind a little. More time? How much time? More attention? Decide it, and don't let yourself settle. Sure it'll be hard to say no if after him ignoring you he decides he wants to get some, but in the end that'll hurt you more. Once you decide this, give him some time. Make a list of things YOU need to do - that thesis, train for a 5k, visit family and old friends, read that book, whatever, and DO those things. It'll be hard to concentrate, but the only way to not make things worse is to give him space, that's the only chance that he might actually miss you and decide he wants to spend time with you. But next time he approaches you, tell him firmly some of the things that you decided you want, without letting him make excuses. Don't announce that you're giving him space, but hopefully, once he knows what you want and sees that he misses you, it might work.

But honestly, from my experience and friends' experiences, girls get insecure because they KNOW in our gut that something's wrong, we're good like that. Most of us don't get insecure for no reason, though guys might see it that way. And if something is wrong it's because the guy stopped being as 'lovey' as he was before, and it's pretty much impossible to force guys to do something they don't want to do. So I'd go forth hoping for the best, but expecting the worst, and at the same time doing things that YOU need to do regardless of how much time he spends with you, so if things don't work out well at least you already have stuff that you're doing for yourself.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 1:59 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

You are trying to do things that even very mature people with long standing relationships have difficulty with:

- You're trying to live together, but kinda-not-really because he's just your roommate
- You're trying to do non-monogamy but you're obviously not communicating enough for it to work. Yes, people who do non-monogamy still talk frequently to make it work, and they don't describe themselves as "stuck" with their primary partners.
- You're trying to balance couple time with other pursuits when you're not even a real couple

It's reasonable to expect attention and comfort when you're in a real committed relationship, but of course it's driving you nuts trying to get anything out of this quasi-relationship you're currently in. There is no commitment or good communication, so you're never going to get through the above obstacles and reach a place where you're getting what you want from him without feeling like a nag. Find someone else you can practice developing these skills with, or continue to enjoy sex with him, but don't expect the things from him you'd expect from a boyfriend. You said it yourself- he's NOT your boyfriend.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:42 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I still want to see if I can just stop acting like a nut and keep things afloat.

You bolded it first, but this would have stuck out to me anyway. Do you want this to be a healthy relationship or just "afloat"?

I would guess that you are desirous of something more traditional, in the sense of an exclusive, romantic relationship. You should definitely take the great advice above and talk to him first, about your feelings, see if you can connect on a verbal and emotional level. You need to know where he is coming from and what is realistic for you to expect; you sound very frustrated and you need to know what direction to go in.

He works at the store 5-13 hours a day 5-7 days a week, and often ends up working on store stuff or doing freelance work on the side - or just reading to destress - until late at night. When he does this, he's completely inaccessible...

I found this section troubling too. The math kind of sounds like he works a pretty normal amount, not excessively, and I also don't understand why when he is doing other projects - the freelance, reading - he is "inaccessible". I know that, for me, when I am at the tail end of a relationship that's going downhill, I do the same thing - find reasons why I can't be accessible. For example, staying up really late reading or watching movies so I don't have to go to bed with my SO and talk or have sex.

So you gotta go talk to this guy. Find a time, maybe set a "date" at a coffee shop, and be honest with him about how you are feeling, and find out how he is feeling too.
posted by RajahKing at 2:46 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well I agree with ejazen who said that you two are essentially roommates with benefits (um, I actually asked a mefi question about this very issue once. funny.). I, myself, haven't personally participated in this kind of non-monogamous, free-love business, so I'm no expert. I do however think that unless you are the type of person who's completely non-possessive and non-needy, it's probably not the best idea to embark on such an arrangement. It's pretty much going to end in tears. Honestly, this is the benefit of ascribing to a more traditional dating arrangement - so that ideally you will not get all emotionally tied up with someone who hasn't first made some gestures of committing to you. This guy you've been sleeping with doesn't even recognize himself as being in a relationship - that's pretty clear from your post. Obviously what you need to do is have a clear conversation between you on what exactly it is you expect and need from each other. He's actually already told you through his actions, by putting distance between you and trying to downplay the nature of your involvement. But for the sake of clarity, sit him down somewhere quiet, and just ask him bluntly what it is he wants. Try very hard not to manipulate him with your crying. Just listen calmly.

If he doesn't want to be in a relationship with you, then immediately start doing what it takes to get over him. Absolutely, do not go move in with him somewhere else. If he says he does though, then by all means be clear about what is you expect out of someone you consider your boyfriend. (I hope it's more than someone you have to beg to sleep with you!)
posted by afabulousbeing at 3:04 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're the type who likes a lot of intimacy & time with a partner, especially when you're stressed.
Which is a totally fine type of person to be.

He's the type who likes a lot of space, especially when he's stressed.
That's also a totally fine type of person to be.

Unfortunately these two types of people are not very compatible. Say the compromise is that you sleep together 3-4 nights a week. You're gonna feel increasingly abandoned and insecure, you'll still miss him & be lonely on the apart nights, and worry that he's only with you on the together nights because you made him. He's gonna feel increasingly smothered, resentful of the together nights and guilty on the apart nights. Your problems are also going to be exacerbated by the imbalance in how much you like each other / want a relationship: sounds like you do and he doesn't-- but he feels like he's "stuck"** in one anyway. I don't think this is going to work out. Living together in a bohemian situation with exes and polyamory won't help, either.

** Also, "stuck" is an incredibly dickish thing to say, by the way, and the fact that he says it often doesn't say anything nice about him. I think you should end this situationship asap.

I guarantee that you can find a guy who really likes you, who wants to be in a relationship, and who wants to spend as much time as possible with you. Your ideal guy will turn to YOU to de-stress, not a book and "inaccessability". Good luck- YOU CAN DO BETTER.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:30 PM on April 6, 2009 [6 favorites]

I'm going to come back and comment on this again -- mostly because I keep checking to see if other people have updated, and something about this post really sticks in my mind.

This situation resonates, in part because it's something I worry about myself? -- partner who is very mobile, unwillingness to broach "commitment" issues, and ambiguous living spaces, paired with a fear of losing something very dear. All of which are totally reasonable, I think -- but worth working through, if only to keep your own sanity and self-respect. A few things immediately stand out, though, that I'd be worried about from your post:

I continue to have these episodes of intense unhappiness - though most of the time I wake up in the morning alone and feel fine, like a different person, not insecure or worried at all, except about the consequences of my complaints and vague threats to break up with him and things like that.

Vague threats are probably only adding to the confusion on his end. And nobody deserves to be intensely unhappy with someone they love. BUT -- to reiterate the earlier point -- unless you talk with him directly, this is pretty much what you're left with -- threats, vague feelings of dissatisfaction, and (what sounds like) guilt over not being able to talk about it. So first step: Talk to him about it. Be calm, but direct, and tell him how you feel.

I wish he'd comfort and reassure me, but he doesn't seem very good at that - and this seems like something I should be able to do myself, anyway

I think you're letting independence get in the way of intimacy here. Yes, in a fully functional relationship, one partner would not need to reassure the other one -- and the other partner wouldn't need reassurance that everything is OK. But it sounds like what you've got is less than functional -- you've already got a LOT of independence -- but very little expectation that he's going to reciprocate on the intimacy end. So the question isn't really, "How do I worry about this less," but "Do I try to fix it?" and if so, "How do I fix it in a way that's fair to both of us?"

What seems to be true (for me) about open living situations is that there is a VERY FINE LINE between "keeping mutual respect" and letting other people's needs get in the way of your own. It's totally reasonable that he would need his own space -- it's also reasonable that with a perfectly normal amount of work, he might STILL be getting stressed out and acting like a jerk. If he recognizes this - it's a good sign. And yes, maybe withdrawing is his way of saying "I don't want to be with you, but I'm too chicken to break up" -- but it also might be his way of dealing with normal, everyday stress.

At the same time -- it goes both ways, right? You're stressed too -- and if he's invested in the relationship, he should also give some here too. Which means that sometimes you need attention -- and sometimes his space gets invaded -- and sometimes he says "Fuck it, I'm going to put my book away" and sits and talks to you. Even if it's awkward, even if he doesn't quite know what to say. "I care about you EVEN THOUGH I'm not happy with the current circumstances of our relationship" -- and showing you that this is the case. That's what would signify a normal relationship to me.

It's possible that he wants to do this, but is just confused about how to communicate his feelings? It's possible that he doesn't want to do this, and is just being a jerk about the whole thing.

Either way, it sounds like you guys need to sit down and actually hash out what you're doing, and what you want out of this. DON'T copy paste this email (it will probably freak him out a bit) -- and DON'T frame it as "I know you're really busy and stressed, and I'm sorry to be adding more to the pile." You're not his live-in roommate -- you're his girlfriend, and it's not too much to expect that he'll treat you fairly and respectfully in turn. If you expect this upfront, he'll probably be a lot more comfortable speaking openly and telling you directly what he thinks. Conversely, you can't have honest discussions about relationships if you're quietly asking someone else to safe-guard your self-respect. If you beat around the bush, insist that it's your problem not his, and take on all the responsibility, he's probably just going to feel guilty about it and continue avoiding the issue. If you talk about it directly -- well, at least you know where you stand.

Does that make sense?

Good luck!
posted by puckish at 4:48 PM on April 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

What jumps out at me is how polarized and extreme the positions sound. You are verbally trying to get yourself to be okay with zero commitment and you seem to have this idea you should expect nothing from him, but then you get angry and maybe even a bit aggressive about demanding certain types of closeness. There's a mix of total distance and non-commitment (not talking, always busy, polyamory, "not your girlfriend"), and extreme clinginess. It's like you spend a lot of time at the extremes (0 and 100) whereas others probably hover closer to midrange (40-60) and rarely go to the either distant end of the spectrum.

What's causing that, do you know? Do you guys switch off roles? It kind of sounds like you each have your own role -- you're the one who wants closeness, mostly, and he's the one who wants distance, is that right? I wonder what would happen if you were dating someone who agreed to stay together every night and wouldn't feel stuck if you were truly his girlfriend. Would that be totally unattractive? Would that freak you out and make you want to run away? I wonder what would happen if you said you wanted this to truly be a real thing.
posted by salvia at 11:06 PM on April 6, 2009

Honestly, I think you need to move out of that apartment and if you can't, at least focus on your own life right now. Of course you want to keep things "afloat" when you're going to have to see him everyday. It's hard enough to go through a break up without having to share a kitchen. I'm in a situation where I'm splitting from a similarly distant person who I have a lot of mutual friends with. It's hard because the indifference hurts more than angry words. At least for me, I want him to feel something towards me, and he doesn't, and considering how much I care for him, it hurts a lot. In my case, I know it's more of a problem with repression/lack of expression, and it could be that for you as well. It's possible that with all his traveling, he's learned how to steel himself from getting too close to people, and he's pulling away because you're starting to work your way in.

Our situations seem similar in that with a lot of begging and prodding, I could get him to be affectionate for a while, but it's never the same when their heart isn't in it. And even if underneath the distant shell, there's real feelings, you aren't going to get rid of that distance. It's there. He doesn't want to let you in. It hurts because you probably shared some really special moments. Those moments might even be why he's pulling away, and that's totally confusing. But there it is. So, you need to pull away, and you need to build up defenses. You need to respect yourself enough to know that this isn't ok with you, and if he can't change (and it's a very real possibility that he won't) you need to leave him.
posted by ohisee at 1:15 AM on April 7, 2009

I'm going to say some things you probably don't want to hear. I wouldn't have wanted to hear them either, back in the days when I was in a "relationship" much like the one you describe. But in hindsight, I wish someone had mustered up the chutzpah to break through all my rationalizations and endless intellectualizing and confront me with the harsh reality of what was going on. So I'm going to write this as if I'm speaking to my younger self, and hope that you find something in it that speaks to you.

You don't have a boyfriend. You don't have a romantic relationship. What you have is an arrangement. That's all. You're treading water - trying to keep things afloat, as you put it, but not getting anywhere. You clearly have strong feelings for him and want more than just an arrangement, but he does not. Early on, he wanted no-strings-attached sex with you; now, faced with the reality of your deepening feelings for him, he's trying to find a way to avoid anything that even remotely resembles closer involvement or commitment.

You two are stuck in a vicious and self-reinforcing pursuer-distancer cycle, driven by anxiety. You reach out for closeness and reassurance. He backs off, which only makes you that much more hungry for reassurance. You can soothe yourself for awhile, but eventually you reach out again. The more you pursue, the more he pulls back, and the more he pulls away, the more you pursue. It's a negative feedback loop. Eventually you'll reach an impasse; from the tone of your post, it sounds to me like you're just about there, or will be soon.

Those excuses he's making to justify wanting more space and sleeping alone? That inaccessibility, ambivalence and reluctance to get close? Those insensitive comments about being "stuck" with you? That's the the kind of thing people do when they want to break up with someone, but are too spineless to own up to it and face the music. He's keeping you hanging on, softening the blow of his avoidance here and there with the occasional feeble apology, and confusing you with his on-off behavior. He's probably secretly hoping that eventually you'll get fed up enough to break it off. That way he won't look like the bad guy.

But enough about him. You've already spent way too much time and energy trying to understand his motives and behavior, and frankly, from where I sit he doesn't sound like much of a prize. That may just be my own projection, though; he might be a basically decent guy, albeit one who can't or won't love you the way you need to be loved. But I want to focus on you. So I ask this with the deepest compassion: Where have you been, and what have you learned in your life, that has made you willing to settle for a situation where you have to repeatedly chase after someone whose behavior is hurting you, and try to get him to love you?

When you're in the right relationship, things don't work that way. Sure, there's ebb and flow in a good relationship, and both partners can benefit from time alone as well as closeness. But your situation is completely lopsided: you chase, he runs away. When you're in the right relationship, you don't have to twist yourself into a pretzel to make it work, or feel shameful because he's likely to interpret your legitimate desire for closeness as "bugging" him. Chasing him around like a dog begging for scraps feels shitty, and worse still, it is eating away at your self-respect. Staying in this situation is damaging for you.

You say you should be able to comfort yourself when you don't get what you want. Well, yes, I'll agree that self-soothing is a useful skill...but don't forget that it's perfectly reasonable to want comfort from your partner also. And you're not getting it.

Let me emphasize that again. What you want is reasonable. I cannot stress this enough. You feel neglected not because you're fatally flawed, but because you ARE being neglected. You are not too clingy or too needy, at least not any more than anyone else would be if they were in your shoes. From your current vantage point, it may appear that you are, but if you were with someone who was a better match for you, I think you'd see yourself in a different light.

I'm sorry if any of this sounds harsh. But I know firsthand exactly how maddening it can be to love someone, to feel that visceral longing for reassurance, that ache in your chest, that pull to be close, and to have that desire frustrated repeatedly. That desire is such a strong force that it overcomes all your objections. That's when you find yourself pursuing him again, even against your better judgment, and the whole damned cycle starts all over again. And when you're faced with someone who uses indifference and other passive-aggressive behavior to back away, it's all too easy to convince yourself that you're just imagining things, being too critical, etc.

In my situation, I remember thinking that I'd prefer yelling, crying, anything over cold withdrawal and passive avoidance. At least then I'd know he felt something. But the more I asked, the less forthcoming he was.

I hung on for far too long, in part because I was so good at convincing myself that his various excuses and rationalizations were legit, and he really meant well, and if only I weren't so clingy all the time maybe he'd come after me once in awhile, and...and...well, I'm sure you get the picture. I wanted so badly to believe things were okay that I turned a blind eye to the truth. Right up until he left me for someone else.

I suspect that you know something is very wrong here, otherwise you wouldn't have posted this AskMe question. Listen to your gut; trust your instincts. And believe me when I say that you deserve to be with someone you don't have to chase after - someone who's proud to be your boyfriend, and wants to be with you.

Good luck.
posted by velvet winter at 3:00 AM on April 7, 2009 [12 favorites]

I dated a guy like this. He couldn't handle having a "girlfriend." I couldn't handle what you would probably call his bohemian lifestyle. Thankfully I didn't live with him.

It's really too hard to think and feel straight when someone is just in the next room.

If you didn't live with him would you be crying if you had to sleep alone? If you can, imagine what your relationship would be like if you didn't live together. Everything else is exactly the same but he isn't on the couch in the next room every day. Now how do you feel and what do you think of your relationship?

Try your hardest to not bug him about sleeping with you. He said that's not what he wants right now and it's not fair of you to manipulate him (I know you really feel sad and aren't doing it on purpose). If you can't sleep alone, have some sleepovers with friend, or get a dog, or take something that makes you sleepy right away so you don't have time to think about it.

It's all up to you. How you act and how you view this "relationship" is within your power. Not his.
posted by CoralAmber at 11:52 AM on April 7, 2009

When I read your question, I was stricken by how you gave off this image that your feelings and desires are the cause of the degradation of this relationship.


But unfortunately, I talk to him anyway.

I don't think any discussion involving how YOU feel and what you NEED is something that is unfortunate.

If this had been a one-time thing, it probably would have been just fine - but I've started going in and bugging him - in what I know is his only free time, in what I know is his only semi-private space - more or less every night!

Once again, you are perceiving your own behaviors as a bad thing.

I don't know how to help you, but I'd really like you to think about how you are perceiving your own feelings, needs, and desires.
posted by CatherineK at 2:24 PM on April 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, it sounds to me like he is not overly into this relationship and like the store is the big stress in his life right now that he needs to focus on. He may be acting distant to get you to break up with him.

Also, it seems strange to me that you all are living with his ex, and I wonder whether he may have started the relationship in any way as a "so there" to her, to show her he'd gotten over her. Maybe not. Sorry this comment is so negative; maybe I'm way off here. Good luck to you!
posted by onlyconnect at 3:00 PM on April 12, 2009

This isn't good.

Basically - the lack of communication, fear of change etc, that's the danger signs and fractures that this stress is exposing.

When I had a similar deal, I didn't say anything because I didn't want to break it. Everything was so good! Except for how I was obviously insecure and figured if I said anything it would break.
In my case, it turned out - he was exactly the same. HE was really really infatuated, but didn't want to rock the boat in case he 'broke it'...
I'm guessing what you're hoping here, but there's no happy ending.

Even when we figured out we were on the same page, that initial reserve & uncommunicativeness set the pattern for the relationship. I couldn't figure out how to overcome it, and at my first stress point, *I* broke up, because I couldn't deal with the relationship on top of those other life stresses.

The... relationship how it was, that dynamic, made it a stressor, rather than a support during tough times. Fundamentally, the problem was because I didn't know how he felt, I couldn't say how I felt, and even when we did talk about our feelinds, I'd spent enough time trying not to see what was 'really there' because I didn't want to be disappointed, that I... didn't believe it?

We couldn't figure it out. Maybe you can. But you need to tell him how you feel. That you really, really like him. That you like who he is, you like how the relationship is, and you want him as a boyfriend.

See, I don't even know if yours is where ours was - he never said he felt stuck, he wanted to be monogamous, he admitted he wanted us to be in a relationship.

But, if you don't work on the communication, it'll die anyway. So, tell him you want to be there for him. You want to support him. If it's good, introduce him to all your friends and family AS YOUR BOYFRIEND. Let him know that you're there for him, socially and emotionally.

Good luck.
posted by Elysum at 2:37 AM on April 16, 2009

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